Wars and Warriors Joan of Arc

Review

posted 3/16/2004 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
Platforms: PC
The Hundred Years War was the last great medieval conflict, dominating the consciousness of 14th and 15th century Western Europe. Before anti-French sentiments rekindled to new heights in post 9-11 America (Freedom Fries, anyone?) these “cheese eating surrender monkeys” were known on occasion to kick some serious medieval ass.

Enlight is better known for their award-winning Capitalism and Seven Kingdoms series of strategy sims. Straying from their winning formula, Joan of Arc is purportedly the premier title under a Wars & Warriors series. JOA is first and foremost a 3rd person hack-n-slasher that secondarily encompasses some RTS elements. Fast and frenetic sword swinging (clickclickclick! Click faster!) takes precedence during gameplay in a manner ineffectively comparable to Dynasty Warriors or the more recent Drakengard.

In JOA, Joan’s incredible personal story is reduced to some cursory statements in the instruction booklet. The mission briefings offer a commendable overview of the French army’s general strategies, but Joan is notably silent and seemingly offers no tactical input (except occasionally yelling out “C’mon! There’s a country to be saved!”) Eight lengthy missions, most taking several hours to complete, will forcefeed you the designer’s ideas of how victory is to be achieved.

The implementation of minor decisions, such as deciding which French village to liberate first, is sometimes left up to you. However, the execution of such orders is severely limited by restrained corridor-style gaming. Map topography is ultimately a zigzag of roads drawn between valley ridges. This becomes a nuisance when low-lying bushes or unbreakable barrels impede movement across the terrain. It becomes poor level design when an impassable picket fence acts as a superficial barrier between you and “locked” portions of the map.

Enlight decided to build their own graphics engine for this and for future Enlight endeavors. Their efforts would be well-received in 1999, but these visuals are not up to today’s standard by any means. Character animation is floaty, lighting lacks appropriate dynamics, suits of armor move like spandex, all of which is encompassed by choppy animation and jerky camera panning. The largest cities’ dimensions are suitably enormous and enclosed by impressive battlements, if you aren’t easily discouraged by boring textures. A plethora of non-functional structures huddle inside the walls with only one bakery and one armory for you to interact with.

The AI is inexcusably awful in both 3rd person and RTS modes. Every enemy encounter is distance-triggered and bosses fight with unintelligent predictability. Soldiers get stuck by hooking onto anything and everything imaginable: walls, horses, siege weaponry, bridges, trees, other soldiers, you name it. If you run 200 yards in any direction you can safely estimate losing two or three men along the way. If your soldiers trap you midway up a staircase, expect gameplay to be halted indefinitely.

This is when switching to one of the other playable commanders becomes a default relief. Some possess French accents, although Jean de Metz sounds unmistakably English and La Hire sports an Irish brogue. These commanders, along with Joan, earn experience through combat, gain points to apply amongst stats and combos, and eventually level up. Character attributes are strength, defense, dexterity, and leadership, the latter dictating the total number of troops you may have under your command. This purely participatory act of upping stats is entertaining, but you will not be well-served by ‘specializing’ a commander’s stats. The game essentially rewards evenhanded advancement.

The musical score elaborates the onscreen action, switching from moody and peaceful melodies all the way over to Gustav Holst’s classic “Mars: Bringer of War” (a staple for many a wargaming experience.) Several tracks are recorded with a poor quality low-fi sound, volume consistency alters randomly, and dialogue is frequently drowned out by the soundtrack if left unchecked. It does a below average job of utilizing 5.1 speakers.

Joan of Arc entered during the final phase of the Hundred Years War, finally stemming England’s encroachment of the French throne. At the fresh young age of a highschool junior, Joan became one of history’s most beloved heroes. She was the most thoroughly documented person in history since Jesus of Nazareth, was canonized by the Pope in 1920, had over two dozen movies made about her worldwide, and was burned at the stake on falsified witchcraft charges. This game is not a valuable contribution to her legacy, nor is it a promising foray into action gaming from the Enlight camp.
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